Sponsored by: M&T Printing Group
Hi Everyone, welcome to Throwback Thursday of the 2020 Virtual Western Fair! This photo gallery provides a selection of images covering the last 145 years of the Western Fair.
Enjoy your walk through time!
Late in the year of 1867 The Western Fair Association was founded through the amalgamation of the East Middlesex Agricultural Society and the London District Horticultural and Agricultural Society.
The first official meeting of the new Association was in 1868 and the very first Western Fair, which was predominantly livestock shows, was held on September 29 & 30, on the lands surrounding the Crystal Palace Barracks. The location was just north of what is today known as Victoria Park in downtown London, Ontario.
Shortly thereafter the fair was moved east of Adelaide Street, to the beautiful Old East Village neighbourhood, to what was known as Salter’s Grove, now called Queens Park. A spectacular new Crystal Palace exhibition pavilion was built on this location by 1887.
In this picture you can see the Queens Park gate in 1895, with street cars running in front and in the next photograph the Crystal Palace in 1912, 15 years before it was lost to fire in January 1927.
A new building named the Confederation Building, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Canadian Confederation was constructed and ready for the 1927 Western Fair in September of that year.
The Confederation building housed many agriculture, home arts, and culinary competitions as well as store displays throughout its early years, it is still standing today and operates as The Market at Western Fair District with many fantastic local food vendors and artisans.
By 1898 the Western Fair spans 10-days as it still does today, and highlights industrial and art exhibitions. Through-out its competition and exhibition history, industry and arts exhibits were the mainstay of the fair. One could partake or peruse agricultural industry competitions like horses, cattle, sheep, swine, poultry, rabbits, field crops and grains,
garden vegetables, dairy products, honey and maple syrup, fruit and flowers, as well as fine arts, ladies work, and household sciences, which are examples of the vast variety of competitions the public could participate in for prize money and ribbon and rosette winning reputations.
Horse competitions were vast in the early days as horses were integral to farming and transportation. Categories included light Standardbred and thoroughbred, harness and roadster classes, plus carriage and coach ponies and heavy horses. These well-dressed gentlemen, may have been horse category prize winners or eager observers dressed for the upcoming events, either way attending the fair was always a dressy occasion as these dapper gents portray.
Equipment displays, like this 1918 tractor exhibit were very important part of agri-business at the time, not unlike the Farm Shows of today. Many, from far and wide, attended to see and talk about the latest trends and innovations in the industry, and made important decisions on how to enhance their own farming operations to better themselves and the province’s vast farming economy.
The Western Fair was also an exciting and prestigious community celebration. Everyone attended the Western Fair at some point through its run, and it was THE place to SEE and be SEEN.
The great Grandstand was a main stage of entertainment and thrilling spectacles at the Western Fair. In 1915 the Grandstand was re-constructed out of steel to replace the wooden one which burnt down on Christmas Day 1914. It was built significantly smaller than the previous Grandstand but it still stands in the same location and continues to operate today.
The Grandstand showcased horse racing and horse shows, cattle competitions, military displays, and often some spectacular attractions of the day, like this photo of a bicycle thrill show.
Over the years the grandstand has featured a wide variety of entertainment including many stars of stage, screen and television.
The distinguished building you see in this image is London’s first art gallery, located in Queens Park.
The Western Fair Arts Building still stands today and was constructed in 1928 as a fine art gallery for use during the fair and at other times throughout the year. When completed in 1928 it was considered to be one of the foremost art exhibit buildings in existence.
This shot of the western fair racetrack tunnel located at the corner of Dundas and Egerton still operates as an access point to the grandstand and raceway. The middle of the racetrack was often used as a parking facility for attendees.
Here is a photo of the infield lot with horse and buggy which were the mode of transportation of the day. Just a few short years later the automobile took over and the fair’s parking lots looked dramatically different.
A thrilling component of the fair’s allure was and is the tremendous fun and adventure that was to be had on its midway, for young and old alike.
In the early days rides and game attractions were operated by midway operators,
but by the 1960’s Western Fair began an independent midway operation.
This had not been done before and this unique method of contracting and operating rides and games for the midway
provided the variety and new experiences ride fans were looking.
In 1976 the Zyclon Roller Coaster was purchased by the Western Fair
and installed on the main lot of the fairgrounds to augment the independent midway experience.
It was only operational during the annual fair and was the top grossing midway ride for many, many years.
The fair’s current annual midway provider North American Midway Entertainment now brings the Crazy Mouse coaster
and erects it every year on the same spot the Zyklon once operated and the roller coaster is still one of the most-loved rides on the midway each September.
There has been steady progress over the decades from the early days of the Western Fair, with the vast majority of major changes and evolution of the Western Fair taking place since World War II.
- During the nine-year war period the Western Fairgrounds became an army manning and training depot and many changes took place. Many buildings were torn down and many temporary army buildings erected.
Naturally, this was a period when the annual Western Fair was cancelled in light of the war effort.
The 2020 Western Fair will go down in history as the first Western Fair since World War II that was cancelled, this time because of a worldwide pandemic, but dedicated fair staff hope you enjoy the virtual fair experience that was created for our patrons’ enjoyment while the public stays apart to stay safe, and so we can all be together again next year!
After the war loyal directors and volunteers, the people who took pride in the event and cared about its survival, kept interest alive in the fair, and in late 1947 when portions of the grounds began to be returned to the control of the Western Fair Association, an even bigger and better Western Fair was planned for 1948.
By 1950 as the fair began to gain its momentum again, the fair was 6 days long and offered a tremendous array of things to see and do, this 1951 fair flyer lists a number of exhibits, prizes and attractions including agricultural exhibits, butter and cheese exhibits, health, hobby and home exhibits, plus new industrial and store displays!
In 1923 the Manufacturers Building was constructed as an additional exhibition hall during the fair, and throughout the year. You can see it in this 1925 fair photo. Sadly in 1963, the Manufacturers Building burned to the ground during the annual Poultry Conference and Exhibition in early June. With the annual Western Fair just around the corner the Progress Building was constructed in 11 weeks, on the same foundation and was in use for the fair in September that same year.
By 1966 the Progress Building has received an addition called the ‘east annex’ and it joined the Progress Building to Grandstand, making the first connection between the large complex buildings on the fairgrounds. This area became known as the very popular Patio Café during the fair, with 18 different indoor, local specialty food concessions operated mainly by London churches, service clubs and fraternal groups.
The people who volunteered and ran these booths did so to fundraise for their community organizations but their support of the fair, enthusiasm, energy and great food added to the fair experience and success for many years.
As time marches on the agricultural industry continues to change with the rest of society and in 1989 the Western Fair inaugurates another radical new concept for their competitive display of livestock called “Livestock 2000”
which took the first bold step to move into the ‘90’s by emphasizing agricultural awareness programs, rather than livestock competitions.
The Western Fair is proud of the agricultural programming and education it offers every year to school children and attendees.
Visiting local farmers and the agricultural animals is a favourite activity for many fair attendees.
The people who administer and operate the various areas and aspects of the Western Fair are the ‘secret’ behind its successful longevity.
The Association is formed by a completely volunteer membership which elects a board who oversee the fiduciary responsibilities of the Association, for many decades the board and membership prior to world war two assumed the heavy workload of creating the fair and its activities.
Today a dedicated and passionate staff work with the Board and volunteer membership to deliver the Western Fair every year.
All generations of volunteers and staff have made great contributions in their own time and in their own way, not only to the annual Western Fair, but also to the city of London and south-western Ontario.
Many founding fathers and mothers of the Western Fair Association were relatives of families who still reside in and around the city.
Today’s membership, volunteers, governing bodies and staff continue to do a fine job in overseeing a large modern day agricultural society and all its facilities, people and endevours,
and our loyal customers and new attendees who fall in love with the fair each year, you too are an important part of the people who help to create the eternal magic of the fair.
Thank you to all the fair fans who have supported the Western Fair year after year,
and a big thank you to everyone who was able to come out and enjoy our virtual fair this year, we miss you…
And we are SO looking forward to future fairs with all of you!